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The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image

The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image


The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 108 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 See larger image GOBELINS TAPESTRY (DETAIL) CRAMOISÉE. STYLE LOUIS XV Count d’Angivillier kept the Gobelins factory from all originality, sanctioned only the small wares for original work, and forced a slavish copying of paintings for the larger pieces. It is not deniable that some beautiful hangings were produced, but the sad result is that pieces of so many tones lose in value year by year, through the gentle, inexorable touch of time; and, more deplorable yet, the ambition and the originality of the master-weavers was deprived of its very life-blood, and in time was utterly atrophied. In the time of Louis XVI, when Marie Antoinette was in the flower of her inconsiderate elegance, the note of the day was for art to be small, but perfect; the worth of a work of art was determined by its size—in inverse ratio. It was a time lively and intellectual and frivolous, and its art was the reflection of its desire for concentrated completeness. In the reign of Louis XVI ripened, not the art of Louis XIV, but the political situation whose seeds he had planted. The idea of revolution which started in the littleconsidered American colonies, took hold of the thinkers of France, even to the king of little power. But instead of being a theory of remedy for important men to discuss, it acted as a fire-brand thrown among the inflammable, long-oppressed Third Estate—with results deplorable to the art which occupies our attention. The Gobelins was already suffering at the début of the Revolution. Its management had been relegated to men more or less incapable; its art standards had been forced lower and lower. Added to that its operatives were engaged at lessened rates and often had to whistle for their pay at that. The contractors asked for nothing better than to be engaged as masters of ateliers at fixed rates. Then came the full force of the Revolution with such deplorable and tragic results for the Gobelins. In the madness of the time the workers here were not exempt from the terrible call of Robespierre. The almoner of the factory was arrested, and at the end of two months not even a record existed of his execution, which took place among the daily feasts of La Guillotine. A high-warp weaver named Mangelschot met the same fate. Jean Audran, once contractor for high-warp, then placed at the head of the

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 109 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 factory, was arrested, but escaped with imprisonment only. During his absence he was replaced as head by Augustin Belle, whose respect for the Republic and for his head made him curry favour with the mob in a manner most deplorable. He caused the destruction by fire of many and many a superb tapestry at the Gobelins, giving as his reason that they contained emblems of royalty, reminders of the hated race of kings. The amateur can almost weep in thinking of this ruthless waste of beauty. It was a celebrated bonfire that was built in the courtyard of the Gobelins when, by order of the Committee on Selection, all things offensive to an over-sensitive republican irritability were heaped for the holocaust. As the Gobelins was instituted by a king, patronised by kings, its works made in the main for palaces and pageants after the taste of kings, it was only too easy to find tapestries meet for a fire that had as object the destruction of articles displaying monarchical power. During the four horrid years when terror reigned, the workers at the Gobelins continued under a constant threat of a cessation of work. Not only was their pay irregular, but it was often given in paper that had sadly depreciated in value. Then the decision was made to sell certain valuable tapestries and pay expenses from this source of revenue. But, alas, in those troublous times, who had heart or purse to acquire works of art. A whole skin and food to sustain it, were the serious objects of life. Under the Directory, funds were scarce in bleeding France, and all sorts of ways were used to raise them. In the past times when Louis XIV had by relentless extravagance and wars depleted the purse, he caused the patiently wrought precious metals to be melted into bullion. Why not now resort to a similar method? So thought a minister of one of the Two Chambers, and suggested the burning of certain tapestries of the royal collection in order that the gold and silver used in their weaving might be converted into metal. Sixty pieces, the most superb specimens of a king’s collection, were transported to the court of La Monnaie, and there burned to the last thread the wondrous work of hundreds of talented artists and artisans. The very smoke must have rolled out in pictures. The money gained was considerable, 60,000 livres, showing how richly endowed with metal threads were these sumptuous hangings. The commission sitting by, judicial, dispassionate, presided with cold dignity over the sacrifice, and pronounced it good. A hundred workers only remained at the Gobelins which had once been a happy hive of more than eight times that number, and these were constrained to follow orders most objectionable and restrictive. Models to copy were chosen by a jury of art, and such were its prejudices that but little of interest remained. Ancient religious suites, and royal ones were disapproved. New orders consisted of portraits. But if we thought it a prostitution of the art to weave portraits of Louis XV in royal costume, or Marie Antoinette in the loveliness of her queenly fripperies, what can be said of the low estate of a factory which must give out a portrait of Marat or Lepelletier, even though the great David painted the design to be copied. The hundred men at the Gobelins must have worked but sadly and desultorily over such scant and distasteful commissioning. There were works upon the looms when the Commission began inspecting the works of art to see if they were proper stuff for the newly-made Republic to nurse upon. In September, 1794, they found and condemned twelve large pieces on the looms unfinished, and on which work was immediately suspended. Of three hundred and twenty-one models examined, which were the property of the factory, one hundred and twenty were rejected. In fact, only twenty were designated as truly fit for production, not falling under the epithets “anti-republican, fanatic or insufficient.” The

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